Natural High

Camino winery focuses on sustainability

By Gabrielle Myers
July 2023

When I visited Chateau Davell in Camino, the Sierra’s incremental unfolding of redbud, dogwood and lilac blossoms just reached the small vineyard at 3,100 feet elevation. As Emily Hays invited me into the tasting room, I could see the Sacramento Valley unfold across verdant grass and opening buds.

Eric and Emily Hays started Chateau Davell in 2007 with a land purchase. The couple wanted to spend time with Eric’s mom and dad, and raise their family in a healthy place with a sustainable environment.

At Chateau Davell, the couple uses biodynamic methods to nourish the land and the people who work the vineyard and enjoy its bounty. Southdown sheep prowl the vineyard to graze down weeds between the rows. They aerate the soil with their hooves and fertilize with nitrogen rich manure, the owners tell me.

This practice allows the vineyard to avoid chemical herbicides such as glyphosate. Emily and Eric’s mom Davell, the winery’s namesake, use sheep wool as mulch to insulate garden plants.

“Sustainability with no chemicals, herbicides or pesticides has been our always goal, especially with our kids being here and playing on the land,” Emily says.

Chickens once ran along the rows, but predators from adjacent forests forced the chickens into coops. Now their manure fertilizes grapes. Naturally, grape skins left over after wine pressings are composted and returned to the soil.

Cover crops in the vineyard deliver nitrogen and prevent soil erosion, which is significant given the vineyard’s topography.

With attention on the preciousness of California water and the benefits of the water table, Chateau Davell grapes are dry farmed with perhaps an occasional watering in August during dry years.

While the vineyard is small and produces limited quantities, Eric, who makes the wine, procures grapes from organic growers within 100 miles of his tasting room, notably the Camino-Placerville area and Lodi. Chateau Davell’s commitment to organic growers sets the winery apart from many tasting rooms.

Eric makes unfiltered and unfined wine, which enables true flavor qualities and health benefits to emerge. When wines are fined, chemicals such as clay, egg whites or milk solids are added to separate particles that might cloud the wine or lead to fermentation.

With many people now recognizing food allergies and demanding to know what goes into their food and beverages, the Chateau Davell approach might be the future of winemaking.

The commitment to sustainability shows in the rustic, comfortable tasting room. With a slab of ponderosa pine, the tasting table reflects the forest that surrounds the property. The outdoor tasting area is built with sycamore and oak timber from the Sacramento Tree Foundation’s Urban Tree Rescue program. Many tables are spools that held electrical wire for PG&E.

Further reflecting their sustainable approach, Chateau Davell’s wine labels are 100% recycled, corks are Rainforest Alliance certified, and bottle glass is made in California with recycled content. Labels are decorated with prints of Eric’s wine barrel paintings that line the tasting room walls.

On Friday nights June through October, between 5–8 p.m., Chateau Davell hosts live bands and offers pizza from a wood-fired oven. Mother Davell, who lives down the road from the tasting room, is a master gardener. She often brings garden fresh tomatoes and basil to top the pizzas.

Find Chateau Davell wines in the tasting room in Camino and soon at Moonraker’s new facility in Cameron Park. For information, visit

Gabrielle Myers can be reached at Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered from Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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